MAP: The Dakota Access Pipeline’s Current Construction Progress

A close-up of the pipeline's route through the Ames area. Image:

Using the crowdsourced data visualization tool MapStory, Ames resident Nitin Gadia has put together a detailed map showing the current construction progress of Dakota Access LLC’s Bakken crude oil pipeline across the four states it crosses.

On his blog, Gadia explains the inspiration behind his project. In August, he attended the protest in Boone where about 30 activists were arrested for blocking the entrances to buildings storing pipeline construction equipment. He avoided arrest, as he was still just learning about the project’s details, but because of his involvement with MapStory checked for public mapping data for the pipeline and found none readily available.

“Many people including myself have asked for mapping data of the Bakken Pipeline, and have been denied or given hard copy documents,” Gadia wrote. “In at least one case, Dakota Access LLC, the pipeline company, asked a state government to not release mapping data for their own security, even though you can see exactly where it is on the map images they give you, and can draw them out if you wanted to.”

So that’s what he set out to do. With the help of the freelancer recruitment website Upwork, he connected with people in Kenya and the Philippines who spent dozens of hours picking apart pipeline documents and drawing its route over maps using a process called georeferencing.

The map is most detailed in Iowa, where the locations of land seized using eminent domain and properties owned by people engaged in lawsuits against Dakota Access are shown. (North Dakota is the only other state where the pipeline’s construction is still in progress; in South Dakota and Illinois it is completed.) Embedded below, the map is also viewable on its own website that asks for your location so you can pinpoint your current proximity to the pipeline’s route.

Gadia presents the map as part of a larger “data call to arms” to push back against what he describes as governments’ censorship of public data for supposed security reasons and on other often flimsy grounds. A committed, crowdsourced effort to map pipelines and powerlines across the US and throughout the world, Gadia argues, would go a long way in helping people better understand topics ranging from the environment and geopolitics to world history.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.